If what I just read in the NY Post is really true, it means a few things.
I'm not talking about the reflection on the Rangers cap hit and what it means monetarily. Surely that is important and what most will focus on. But I'm talking about what it truly means...
It means Markus Naslund is a professional. He realizes that playing hockey is his job. He saw what some others saw: that he was not at the top of his game, not the player he was six or seven years ago. He realized, especially given a coaching change, that he was not going to be able to play a go-go-go style anymore, and he said he was done.
Now to me, and I've said so before, Markus Naslund has nothing to be ashamed of here this season. I realize many thought he gave half efforts in the tail end of the season and looked a step behind. Well, that seems like something Naslund himself is not denying, here. And he did take a bunch of hooking/holding penalties in the later stages that made a guy losing a step look like he was losing a lot more. I'm blaming that on frustration, perhaps personal and on the whole of the team.
But what I saw, what I am focusing on, is a guy that scored goals when the rest of the team, save a few, didn't. A guy that, when a disappointing season was all said and done, had still scored a team-high 24 goals. A guy that, at 35, appeared in all 82 games and all 7 playoff games.
He scored some timely goals. He was the one skating over to the refs to argue when one of his teammates got an unfair call - more than Gomez and more than Drury. He was the one that had - when he used them - more nifty shots than more than half his teammates. He was the one that sounded genuine in the post-game, in victory and in defeat.
Is that what we - but really Glen - wanted when he was signed - perhaps on some level to replace Jaromir Jagr, as if that man could ever be replaced - at the start of this season? No. But, to me, he really did all he could do given what he had in this team, his teammates, and where he was in his career.
That all being established, last week, he apparently said, I'm done. I cannot help my team the way I want to. I don't want them to be pulled down for me, a guy who cannot do what he was brought on to do.
Now do you think for one second that Gomez, Drury, Redden, et all, would ever think of doing the same thing?
I understand Naslund is at the end of a career, and that makes a difference; I am not blind to that. But it's also called humility, it's also called selflessness. And it's also called pride.
If Naslund was proud of what the season had turned out to be, he'd have been back. Instead, because he knew he was once better and he perhaps knows how this team was - and still is despite his gracious action - painted into a corner financially, and he wanted better for his teammates.
"Proud and classy" says Larry Brooks, of Markus Naslund. I always admired Naslund in Vancouver, and perhaps got a taste of what a great player he was and could be in my years watching that team. He commented publicly how he learned so much when Mark Messier came to Vancouver from 1998-2000, about the game and about how to lead. Naslund, for the record, had his best career seasons in those years post-Messier's departure from the Canucks, perhaps putting to use all he had learned from one of the league's greatest.
Look, I'm guilty here. Maybe I, too, was jaded into thinking we'd get 2002 Naslund here to play for the Rangers. Maybe, given everything I saw happening to this team, I needed to believe that.
The important difference though is Markus Naslund's extreme willingness to admit that the Naslund of 2002 is gone and to make the decision to take the difficult but prideful way out.
Again, Markus Naslund has nothing to be ashamed of here. I still think he was one of the Rangers that, despite limited means, tried the hardest here. I think it was a case, as Larry said, where "the heart and head were willing," but the rest of him simply could not keep up with that.
Still, I'd rather have a guy here on my team that had his heart and his head in the right place, than a guy that is missing one, the other, or both.
Argue all you want that he could have done more, that he was a disappointment, that he should have never been here. Fine. It sounds like Markus agrees to a point that he was not happy with the results either. But do not argue that while this team lacked for some veterans to look up to, some "leader" to follow, that Markus was not trying to be that guy to the best of his ability - by being professional, being humble, and by showing the example of having been there before.
If this is indeed the end for #91, I will not regret his having come play here in New York for this season and I will certainly not regret his being chosen to wear the "A" on his sweater.